Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Languages can be under threat in many ways. My language, Oriya, is under a particular kind of threat – a rather dangerous kind, because it goes unnoticed by speakers and specialists alike. It is a language which has arguably a thousand year old literary tradition. It is a scheduled language, and is therefore viewed as a privileged language. There are structures to support the language in the form of Sahitya Academy, publishing houses, university departments of Oriya, etc. Therefore the observation that it is under threat might appear strange.

It is now widely believed in Orissa and elsewhere in the country that English is the language of opportunity and empowerment. So parents want to send their children to English medium schools. There is demand for introducing English in the curriculum in non-English medium schools as early as possible. Urban Oriya speaking children these days become literate in English and Hindi before they become literate in Oriya. No one seems to mind. There is societal encouragement for children to learn English. It might appear to be an exaggeration, but it looks as though many have come to believe that more than half the battle in life is won if one acquires command of English. And exposure to it does not come from the classroom alone any more.

For information and knowledge the younger generation is no more dependent on the classroom. There is a growing tendency among the young to minimize reading for information, and explore other resources for the same, such as the Internet and television. This is what takes them to English. Then thanks to various reasons, including corruption, alongside of the formal education system, there has developed a fairly strong informal one, quite efficient and organized, in the form of coaching classes, for primarily science subjects, at all levels. Most who are willing to spend money for some quality education, join the informal system while still enrolled in the formal one. In the informal system the language of study tends to be English, of whatever quality – English, because it is the language of science and technical education in India.

Now if for our high school generation English is the language of information and knowledge, Hindi for them is the language of entertainment, thanks to Hindi cinema and television serials. And then Hindi is being increasingly viewed as a language that considerably facilitates mobility in India. People know that learning Hindi helps.

So what motivation is there for the generation at high school to study Oriya for purposes other than passing the school examination? He knows his Oriya and speaks the language in day-to-day life. If he still has time after private coaching and of course money, he is willing to spend the same to improve his communication skills in English.

If this situation persists, then in two or three generations the domain of use of Oriya would largely shrink, and it would become just the language for informal communication. That would be terrible for the language with such a glorious tradition. Nothing will give me greater happiness than the reassurance that my apprehensions entirely baseless.

1 comment:

oddity said...

this is probably not a oriya language specific problem or for that matter a problem specific to just indigenous indian languages.i think the likes of philipson has a point when they say that this is a consequence of linguistic imperialism, which is stronger in current age than ever before